The Green Bay Packers used 25 unanswered points, including touchdown receptions from receivers James Jones and Greg Jennings, to stun the hosting Atlanta Falcons, 25-14, and improve their record to 5-0 in 2011 with an 11th straight win overall.
Here are five observations from the game:
1. Bouncing back
There simply aren’t many teams in the NFL that could have rebounded the way the Packers did after falling behind 14-0. The Falcons had steamrolled them on both sides of the ball through the first quarter, amassing 125 yards and holding the ball for over 10 minutes. A second 10-play drive led to another Falcons’ touchdown following Ryan Grant’s first fumble in over 300 touches. And after seeing your starting left tackle hobble off the field while your starting right tackle is on the sidelines in street clothes, other teams might have just packed it in on the road. But the Packers slowly got their offense back on track. Despite settling for two field goals in the first half, it looked as if the offense gained confidence marching down the field on those two possessions.
The Packers defense held serve, and going into the half down just 14-6 was a huge boost after such a disastrous start. Remember, Sunday night was the first time the Packers had been down by 14 or more points in a game since 2009. They faced that adversity well against the Falcons, which is always something Mike McCarthy stresses. By overcoming all those potential road blocks, the Packers’ 25-14 win was undoubtedly the team’s most impressive of the 2011 season.
2. Defensive response
Enough can’t be said about how the defense played in the second half, and really, on each possession following the Falcons’ first two touchdowns. Atlanta made it looked frustratingly easy in racking up 140 yards and two scores in the first half, but the Packers clamped down after that. The Falcons had just 111 total yards during the final 42 or so minutes of the game. On Atlanta’s six possessions after their second touchdown, they gained just 14 yards and punted five times (one drive was a kneel down before the half). That’s an incredible turnaround and it saved the game for the Packers. The Falcons did threaten on their final two drives, but each ended with a Matt Ryan interception.
The play of the defense allowed the Packers offense to finally get on track, which it did by scoring on six of their next eight possessions after Atlanta went up 14-0. Fans have been calling for the Packers defense to look more like 2010 after a sluggish start to this season. They certainly did tonight. They took a punch early but responded like we’ve seen so many times in the past 12 months.
3. Next man up
It’s hard to believe how one team can take so many injuries at key positions and still operate like the Packers have the past two seasons. Recovering from 15 players on the injured reserve was a defining aspect of the Packers’ Super Bowl season last season, but it has carried into 2011. Losing Bryan Bulaga (knee) on the right side was one thing, but to see Chad Clifton limp off with a hamstring injury seemed like a fatal blow. But second-year player Marshall Newhouse shifted from the right—where he has excelled filling in for Bulaga over two appearances in 2011—to the left, and played even better at that position. As Mike McCarthy would say, Newhouse “didn’t even blink.”
Rookie Derek Sherrod then took over at right tackle, and after a rocky start, he had no further problems. He was far from a certainty, too, as he looked lost for most of training camp and the preseason. The 2011 first rounder really responded to the challenge, however. With Bulaga, Newhouse and Sherrod on the roster, it appears as if the Packers are set at that position for years to come even if Clifton is done after 2011. And not only did both tackles play well, but backup safety Charlie Peprah, who is filling in for All-Pro Nick Collins, had a key interception late in the fourth that stymied a Falcons drive in Packers’ territory.
It’s a credit to McCarthy and the Packers coaches for always having the next guy ready, and also to GM Ted Thompson for giving that kind of depth to the coaching staff. No matter how many knockout punches the injury bug throws the Packers, this bunch always gets up stronger then they were before.
4. Just too many options for 12
The Packers again confirmed that no offense in the NFL can boast as many weapons as they do on any given week. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers hit 12 different receivers on Sunday night, and fourth-string tight end Ryan Taylor was the only active skill player to end the game without a reception. Tom Crabtree had a 15-yard catch, Alex Green caught a swing pass for six yards on a third-and-2 play, Randall Cobb ran a perfect slant for 10 yards on a third down in the fourth quarter and D.J. Williams caught his first NFL pass after leveling a Falcons defensive lineman during a chip block on the right side.
James Jones, who had just nine catches for 88 yards coming into the game, caught five passes for 140 yards and a 70-yard touchdown. That kind of outburst from Jones is exactly why Rodgers pushed management to bring him back this season, which they obliged. Greg Jennings made one of the plays of the year for the Packers, as he caught a drag route over the middle and then turned it into an acrobatic, diving touchdown at the far pylon. We’ll be seeing that replay over and over as the year wears on. And when you look at the box score, 82 yards and a touchdown almost seems like an off day for Jennings at this point. He’s playing better right now than he has over any stretch in his career.
Jermichael Finley could have had a really impressive stat line, but he’ll take four catches for 67 yards which included two huge third down conversions that extended scoring drives. The two drops, including a sure touchdown before the half, soured what could have been a big night for 88. Fans got on him hard for both miscues, but those plays will prove to be rarities for the Packers tight end over the course of a season.
5. General Sherman
I’ll credit Robert Hammen, who tweeted the “Sherman” reference, for coming up with a fitting label for Rodgers’ recent performances in the Georgia Dome. After throwing for over 700 yards and four scores in two games at Atlanta last season, Rodgers again burned the city (or maybe just the Falcons’ secondary) to ground. Even General Sherman, who captured Atlanta during the Civil War for the Union Army, would be envious of Rodgers’ domination over the city. He completed 26 passes for 396 yards and had two touchdowns, which is good for a 117.0 passer rating (a number that will actually cause his season rating to fall; Rodgers came into the game leading the NFL at 124.6 in 2011).
The Falcons sacked him four times and limited his running game to just 58 yards, but even that couldn’t slow the game’s hottest player. Finley’s drop in the end zone kept Rodgers from having even a more ridiculous stat line. If that pass is completed, Rodgers would have thrown for 414 yards and three touchdowns (129.7 rating). But even with some of the mistakes that the Packers made, Rodgers proved that he is the NFL’s unquestioned MVP through five games.
The one throw that sticks out to me from Sunday night: Facing a third down after the Packers had fallen behind by two touchdowns, Rodgers felt pressure from his left and rolled right. He spotted Jennings running free from Falcons defensive back Chris Owens, and Rodgers delivered a laser on the run that hit Jennings right in stride inside the 15 yard line. It’s the kind of throw Packers fans have come to expect, but also one that only Aaron Rodgers can make.
Quick final thoughts
CB Sam Shields had his best game of 2011. There was some concern this season after a tough start, but he shut down rookie Julio Jones…K Mason Crosby continues to build on a fantastic start to his season, as he hit all four of his field goal attempts, including a 56-yarder that cut the Falcons’ lead to 14-9…Referee Jeff Triplette had a game to forget. If you saw the game, you know what I mean. The non-call of fair catch interference on Randall Cobb, coupled with a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty from the Packers sidelines, stuck out the most among his calls. That’s a 30-yard swing of bad officiating. Rodgers got hit terribly late on one third down as well, and no flag was thrown…B.J. Raji was highly critical of the Falcons post game, and his comments were warranted on every level. But there was no need to make them public. The Packers did plenty of talking on the field Sunday night with how they played…Green Bay’s defense had just one sack, but they hit Matt Ryan seven times and clearly had him rattled in the second half. Stats such as sacks don’t always tell the story…The Packers welcome the winless St. Louis Rams to Lambeau Field next week.——————
Zach Kruse is a 23-year-old sports journalist with a passion for the Green Bay Packers. He currently lives in Wisconsin and is working on his journalism degree, while also covering prep sports for The Dunn Co. News.
You can read more of Zach's Packers articles on AllGreenBayPackers.com.Follow @zachkruse2